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Michigan Mom Issues Warning For Parents After 12-Year-Old Son Is Severely Burned During YouTube ‘Fire Challenge’

Click On Detroit | Local 4 | WDIV/YouTube

Tabatha Cleary of Dearborn Heights, Michigan is warning other parents of the dangers of the YouTube “fire challenge” after her son was severely burned attempting the stunt.

Cleary’s son Jason tried the challenge with friends after seeing others post videos of themselves doing it online. Participants take turns being lit on fire with various flammable substances.

The fire is supposed to be extinguished immediately.

Jason was a willing participant until one of his friends kept splashing him with more nail polish remover after he had been set on fire. He then began to scream loudly enough that his mother could hear him from several houses away.

When she ran outside to see what had happened, she saw her son’s friend bringing him home with no shirt on, so his injuries were clearly visible.

“So we came running out, and that’s when his friend, Bryce, was riding him on the bike with no shirt on.” 

“And I immediately started to freak out. I’m like, ‘Take him to the hospital! Take him to the hospital!’” 

Cleary told WDIV-TV:

“I just want everybody to know that these challenges, or whatever they’re watching on YouTube, is not worth risking your life. My son got [second-degree burns], and it could’ve been way worse.”

There is an ongoing police investigation into the incident by the Dearborn Heights Police Department. Child welfare workers have also visited the family’s home since the incident.

You can view WDIV’s coverage of the Clearys’ story below. 

Some folks on social media called for conversations with kids about the dangers of peer pressure and this sort of challenge. 

Folks also expressed sympathy for the family and wished the boy a speedy recovery. 

Children may not realize when they see dangerous things like this posted online that the people doing it in the initial video are often professionals and know how to keep themselves safe.

Even if they are not, it is definitely still a bad idea to emulate dangerous behavior.

These exhibitionist challenge videos are an unfortunate reality of life with social media and easy dissemination of content. They’re over the top and ridiculous, so they get lots of views and get shared around.

The particular idea of the “fire challenge” has been around since at least 2016, when someone who attempted it was treated for severe burns at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

The case was written about in the Journal of Burn Care and Research in 2016.

According to the report:

“[The patient] reported lighting himself on fire because he had seen this stunt performed on the internet.”

The article’s authors also reviewed the footage of other “burn challenge” videos they found online and discovered that 13 of the 50 videos they found showed evidence of burn injury in the participant. These injuries ranged in severity, but were clear indicators of the danger to anyone attempting the challenge.

Challenge videos like these pose a clear and present danger to impressionable youth who may not be good judges of how dangerous a challenge really is.

Having a conversation with kids about the sort of things they may see online may not be a perfect solution, but it could go a long way toward helping kids determine what is and isn’t safe. At the very least, it can help them learn to question what they see online and not just take everything at face value.


Listen to the first season of George Takei’s podcast, ‘Oh Myyy Pod! where we explore the racially charged videos that have taken the internet by storm.

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Written by Winn Sioux Christnot-Peters

Winn Sioux Christnot-Peters is a writer/web designer and aspiring librarian based in Northern Maine. When not writing or in class, they devote much of their time to multiple non-profit organizations, largely focusing on LGBTQ+ rights and animal welfare. During rare moments of free time Winona enjoys video and tabletop games, as well as various nerdy fiber crafts such as crocheting (mainly amigurumi Pokémon, cat toys, and blankets) and counted cross stitch.